The VOLKsHouse offers a viable example of how production housing might move affordably into the realm of net-zero energy. Designed for a standard 50-foot-wide lot, this experiment in building to Passive House standards cost 6.5% less than a similar conventional home, the architects say.
The challenge was fitting a typical starter-house program—three bedrooms, two baths, a small home office, and a two-car garage—into a compact but attractive box. The house comprises two cubes—a two-story volume containing the kitchen, dining room, office, and bedrooms, and an attached one-story living room whose roof serves as an upstairs deck.
Smart thermal technologies helped reduce material and mechanical costs. A 10-inch-thick foam “frost skirt” installed vertically around the foundation slab perimeter reduced concrete use by one-third. Four inches of rigid foam insulation protects the slab, and the walls contain 10-inch-thick foam panels. Those measures, coupled with the airtight design, brought the HVAC investment—a ducted, mini-split heat pump tied to an 83%-efficient ERV—down to $8,000. Tipping the VOLKsHouse into net-zero territory are a $6,000 2-kW PV array and a solar thermal system that supplies 91% of the hot water.